Power harassment and implications (not only) from and for the Japanese “corporate warriors”

Mathias Sager
5 min readFeb 5, 2019


This article discusses the definition of harassment as a form of bullying, then goes into further detail regarding power harassment, and adds specific experiences from Japan before the article concludes with possible interventions to be taken by organizational leadership. Workplace harassment seems to be especially important also in Japan as most extremely put, the Japanese “corporate warriors […] have considered their corporate affiliation as their real family” (Adams, 2012).

(Workplace) harassment as a form of bullying

According to international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO), harassment can be regarded as a sub-category of bullying (also so called mobbing), which is by itself a form of relational aggression (Raskauskas & Stoltz, 2004). Harassment involves personal identity information such as, e.g., sexual orientation, race, nationality, political convictions, social status, and religion to strike at the dignity of an individual (Toshiyo, Jiro, Kumi, Yasuhito, & Kaori, 2016). Harassment doesn’t need to be repetitive, or base on a power difference between offender and victim as Cascardi, Brown, Iannarone, and Cardona (2014) are a suggestion for the definition of bullying. However, (workplace) harassment may involve perceived intention of the harasser as the strongest defining characteristic, and occurrence of the harassment as a further defining element, which with increasing frequency can clarify unclear intentions (Claybourn, Spinner, & Malcom, 2014).

Power harassment

Turte, Correa, da Luz, and Fischer (2012) found that younger employees seemed to possess little know-how regarding how to deal with harassment as related to morality attacks. This is worrying as these workers may represent a particularly vulnerable risk group. In a study of what intensified the victimization impact on children most, “power inequality” was found to be a key factor (Turner, Finkelhor, Shattuck, Hamby, & Mitchell, 2015). According to Koeszegi, Zedlacher, and Hudribusch (2014), work environments with a culture of high power importance are prone to become aggressively misused.

Experiences from Japan

Harassment in Japan seems to be defined and perceived as a problematic of harmful act consistent with other cultures (Takaki et al., 2010). Harassment and discrimination often have to do with the motive to use power and control over others (Hammond & Kleiner, 2013). For example, Japanese indicated a higher propensity for sexual harassment, explained by the comparatively more patriarch system in Japan than in the U.S. (Stillman, Yamawaki, Ridge, White, & Copley, 2009). Furthermore, a society shaped by collectivist Confucianism promoting loyalty (Stillman et al., 2009) may not have largely replaced the predominant Japanese corporate seniority system by a more performance oriented employee payment system (Efron, 1999). In 2007 the first company in Japan was sued for an employee’s suicide due to power harassment (Tada, 2010) and the most lamented workplace behavior in 2012 was power harassment, which equals to about twenty-five percent of the Japanese workforce having had contact with power harassment since then (Hasiao, 2015). Bullying and harassment are among the most negative mental health influences for the Japanese male labor force (Koji, Hisashi, Daisuke, & Smith, 2015). Strikingly, Stone (2013) argues that harassment in the form of “abusive workplace speech” (p. 229) is contributing even more to the gender inequality than the lack of women-with-family support measures.

Intervention possibilities

Reduction of harassment needs to go beyond the kind of interventions taken to fight aggression more generally to address the vulnerability of victims and the aspect of passive and witnessing observers of bullying (Cascardi et al., 2014). Intriguingly, organizations cultivating transformational leadership can reap the benefits from empowered and more autonomous employees regarding reduced harassment thanks to a more equal and less vulnerable workforce (Astrauskaite, Notelaers, Medisauskaite, and Kern, 2015).


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Mathias Sager

Awareness Intelligence research and application since 1975. It’s humantime. www.mathias-sager.com, goodthings@mathias-sager.com. Thanks and all the best!